Sunday, February 27, 2011

Miss Blueberry Muffin Waits for Spring, and I Wait to Sew Once Again

Muffin asks me to open the window.
Below her, the spinning wheel.
Click the image to see it all larger.
Sometime last week, Miss Blueberry Muffin decided it was springtime, so she hopped onto the sill of the bank of windows that overlooks our back yard, splotchy green and brown, and sniffed and sniffed through the panes. She'd turn her head to look at me every little while and talk with her eyes and tail, telling me that the sights were worth seeing but the scents were missing and to open the window, please. I didn't. We didn't need a cat clawing around on the shingles or a splat cat on the ground below. Poor thing.

It will be a little while more before I can romp around with sewing the way she wants to romp around outside. The ensembles for spring picnics and the Jane Austen Festival are all in writing, all planned out, and some of the dresses sit waiting in their chests (my jokey term for a plastic bin), but I've not felt too well the last months, so all I've managed to do is to make a single pair of earrings, and those for a friend.

Still, if bodily energy is turned to the boys and husband, to home and work, I can still put mental energy into research, in bits and drabs. Hence these translations, hence months' worth of notes about jewelry, portrait miniatures, hair, fans, gloves, sashes, belts, bags, shawls, mantles, and ornaments, none of the latter written up for the blog, alas.

What, yes? I agree, the above sounds whiny, so quite right, let's quit that. Oh, you were asking something else, too. What's that in front of the settee? Why, yup, that's a spinning wheel all right. A realllly, really old one, perhaps older than the settee, which dates to the American Empire furniture period, somewhere between the late 1820s and 1850. Why is the wheel bi-colored? Well, Dad picked it up gratis at their church sale in coastal North Carolina. It was quite damaged, the wood so dried out that parts were just splitting. So he had a woodturner friend examine it and make new parts where needed, and being a careful man, he didn't color or finish any of the wood, new or old, and he returned me the old crumbly bits to save. Dad gave me the wheel for Christmas, and I was elated. The new wood will gather patina over time, and nothing will pretend to be what it isn't. So it's bi-colored.

One of these months -- years? --- I intend to learn to use it. Not to become good at spinning, just to get a feel for how wool can be made into yarn or thread.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Painter Jens Juel: Warm Portraits, Useful Gauzy 18th Century Costume Details

If relaxed family portraits interest you, have a look at the pictures made by the Danish Jens Juel. The sitters generally seem at ease.

An added bonus? His treatment of fabric is such that when the sitters are wearing gauzy, transparent fabrics, he has painted and drawn them very clearly, and you can even see some seamlines. Such a help to a costumer thinking of using some of especially transparent silk gauzes now out there.

Thank you to the 18th Century Blog: Fashion and Culture from the 1700s for posting a selection of his works this January.

Photo: Danish Princess Louise Augusta, 1790s.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"New Things in Fashion", July 1795: A Translation, Part 1

A Translation from Journal des Luxus und der Moden

In the last post I mentioned the August 1795 issue of the German magazine Journal des Luxus und der Moden.  Here is a translation I made of the first section of the August number (pages 389-390) that talked specifically about fashion. Subsequent sections follow in a few days; I am stretching out the posts for ease.

Being neither a native German speaker nor having experience with 18th century German, reading the journal was a bit of an adventure, and I couldn't make out all of the words. Still, the result may help those of you interested in this era to understand some of the finer details of then-current modes. So, here we go. For each section, first the German version as well as I could make it out in the Fraktur typface, then the English translation. I tried to stick closely to the original sentence construction, or as close as may be done in English, so as to preserve as much as possible the feel of how the author said what he or she did. Also, given that each page of the journal was typeset and printed by hand, sometimes characters did not print properly, leaving empty spaces. Readers of the day most probably had little trouble filling in these blanks, where I find them really perplexing.

A note: Thank you, Sabine, for your kind help and comments about the term "Tracht" and "seit einiger Zeit". Most appreciated, and they make me feel better to know I've done an okay job with the translation.

Aus England
London den 3ten July 1795.
Eigentliche Neuigkeiten von Kleidermoden kann ich Ihnen durchaus nicht melden, da jeßt äusserst selten etwas zur allgemain herlichenden und wirtlich bermerkbaren Mode wird. Die Haupttheater, und mit ihnen die eigentlichen Sammel-plätze, wo neue Mode-Erfirdungen zur Schau getrugan under schnell verbreitet werden, sind in dieser Jahreszeit geschlossen. Nur Eine Bemerkung will ich hier anführen, die sich mir seit einiger Zeit ehr lebhaft aufgedrungen hat. Um sich ohne Affectation stark pudern lassen zu können, muß man hier zeßt in voller Kleidung, im Full dress seyn. Frauenzimmer, besonders die jugendichern (?), tragen in der weinger gepußten und streifen Kleidung, in der man sich gewöhnlich uch dem Publikum zeigt, die Haare nachläsig in Locken geshlagen, und fast gar nich gepudert, einige -- doch kommt dieß immer mehr ab -- auch ganz heriengeklämt. Eben dieß ist der Fall bey den Herren. Nun ist aber jeßt das gepuderte Haar ein Zeichen des loyalen Patriotismus geworden, weil es eine Taxe bezalt, die zur Fortseßung des Kriegs unentbehrlich war. Man sieht daher jeßt im Allgemeinen weit häufiger Personen beyder Geschlechte auch an solchen Orten unde bey solchen Gelegenheiten im vollen Anzuge, wo man sonst im Tracht oder einem zierlichen Negligee zu escheinen gewohnt war.

[the text moves on to other topics, such as literary works and the theater.]

New Things in Fashion
From England
London the 3rd of July 1795.
Actually I cannot quite offer you anything new about fashion, since now there is [äusserst] seldom anything that rules and is truly worthy of notice. The central theater, and with it the actual gathering places, where new fashion inventions are shown and are quickly spread, are closed this time of year. I will make just one observation, which has recently forced itself upon me. In order without affection to be able to strongly powder [one's hair], one must be in full clothing, in Full Dress. Women, especially the younger ones, wear less polished/fussed over and stiff clothing, than which one normally shows to the public, the hair thrown carelessly in locks, and almost entirely unpowdered; a few -- indeed these appear ever more -- entirely uncombed. This is even the case among the gentlemen. Now powdered hair has become a sign of loyal patriotism, because it is taxed, this was for the continuation of the [unentbehrlich] war. So now one sees all across the land more frequently people at home and also in such places and in such occasions in full dress, where one was used to appear in normal dress or in a dainty Negligee (morning or traveling dress).

Fascinating, eh? Three points:
  • Fashions are spread by the upper class, who come up with new looks and display them at the theater and other gathering places, which in those days would have included London's pleasure parks.
  • The author believes that the tendency to go out in public "carelessly" put together was partly a result of the taxation of hair powder. So the young, even the men, go out barely powdered and combed, while those who stick to "strong" powder appear in full dress, and it's a sign of patriotism to do so. So here is one perception of what caused the decline in the use of powder.
  • The term "Tracht" appears quite often in these pages. I am taking the liberty of quoting Sabine from Kleidung um 1800, who explained the term this way: "'Tracht' is a very old German word, which - in its origin - simply meant 'what one wears'. That could be referred to work clothes for which most professions called, as well as for folk groups from different areas across Germany. It was simply the dress that a person usually wears. The 'negligee' back then meant casual daywear (morning dress, travelling clothes etc) in comparison to the official garments 'Parure' and 'Grand Parure'."

    Next time, a translation of the description of the August issue's first of two fashion plates.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The 1790s Project: 1795-1800 Fashion Details

Over the past while, during a hiatus from blogging and sewing, I've been reviewing and refining my understanding of mid to late 1790s fashion, this time looking for fashion details, such as embroidery, and for ensemble details such as hairstyles and accessories. Plus, I've been looking for new sorts of documentation beyond fashion plate images, large portraits, prints, and extant garments.

Photo: detail of portrait miniature of Mrs. Jeremiah Atwater, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Portrait miniatures have proven to be a rich source of detail. Miniatures were the photo keepsakes and memorials of their day, and I suspect were often painted naturalistically so the miniature's owner could see their beloved in their true "likeness". To paint the portrait too fancifully would defeat the purpose of memorialization. This is in contrast to full-length portraits, which art historians have long pointed out did include fanciful and/or symbolic elements. See the exhibition book Thomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman for a current treatment, in the form of a series of essays, of this subject.

Miniatures were far more common than I had realized. In museums they are often not on view, or are stuck away in cabinets where looking at them is a chore for strong eyes. Nor are they run-of-the-mill items in our fine antiques shops, locally, anyway.

However, recently, what with powerful digital cameras and exploding online collections -- and specialty antiques dealer's sites -- they are far easier to find, and often easy to view in detail. I have examined several hundreds of them over time, and have cataloged a long list of them by level of detail, jewelry worn, hairstyles, and so forth. If you would like to browse several collections, try the examples of American miniatures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and miniatures for sale at Antiques and Uncommon Treasure and Aesthetic Engineering Fine Jewels and Antiques (just two among many dealers online).

At the same time, for fun I've been reading and translating several 1795 issues of the German fashion and cultural news magazine, Journal des Luxus und der Moden, which I shall call Luxus here for short. Some 15-20 years ago I studied German seriously, and then let it lapse when, well, when I fell in love with my husband, met through our mutual German teacher, and life moved on. Anyhow, have been aching to pick it back up. Awhile ago I stumbled upon a complete repository of the journal -- what fun! For the last four years I've been wanting to read a 1790s fashion magazine in full, and Nikolaus Heideloff's Gallery of Fashion frustratingly not being available online (with small children, I do not have the luxury to pore over a microfiche at the university nearby), have found Luxus a double luxury.

Photo: sample of the fashion report from the August 1795 issue of Journal des Luxus und der Moden. Note that the author's fashion report actually dates from early July, although the magazine came out in August.

Luxus was a German publication which reports on German fashion but also fashion elsewhere, such as London, along with cultural news. Now, let me here give the standard caveat about styles. Different regions within Europe, Britain, and the U.S. had their own stylistic takes on fashion appropriate to their local culture and geography, but at that date there were fashion norms that did cross national and geographic borders, and fashion-conscious women over the Western world did tend to follow the general norm, at least in outlines. Any examination of portrait miniatures will make this abundantly clear.

Anyhow, when I read the fashion news in Luxus, and look at plates from English fashion magazines, and then look at miniatures, prints, and paintings, I see the general outlines syncing up, while regional and cultural and age and individual and artistic differences make for fascinating analyses. What's delightful about having a full text available, is that we get so much more information about what was hot, and useful details for interpreting the construction of particular ensembles pictured.
Here then is an examination of one of these miniatures, in relation to some fashion plates and accompanying text from Luxus, plus a few notes from Gallery of Fashion. I have made some notes about what I believe may be the details we are looking at. Remember that what I write are attempts, essays, at understanding and are by no means the analysis of an expert.

Let's start. As always, click on the image for a larger version.

Mrs. Jeremiah Atwater, circa 1795
A portrait miniature at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The full portrait. Mrs. Atwater is wearing some elements of what I take to be morning dress, also known as "undress", or "negligee", dress not associated with formal occasions, and some elements, like her open robe, typical of more formal dress.

Let's examine some details.

Mrs. Atwater is wearing a lace collar, which appears to be ruched in a double layer. Just this sort of collar, "Collier" in German, is described in detail in the August issue of Luxus, plate 23, described on pages 394-395. That plate is of a lady in "eleganter Negligee", or an elegant morning toilette.  In the journal the collar is described thus: "Um den Hals ein schmales Collier von weissen Spitzen" (a narrow collar of white lace). From the Luxus text, it's clear that the collar is a separate accessory, not the top part of a chemisette. So it appears to be in Mrs. Atwater's miniature.

Here below is a detail from plate 23 in Luxus.

The July Luxus issue names the plate 23 dress a chemise, of linen. Like Mrs. Atwater's dress, it too has a gathered front and a similar gathered neckline treatment, although the writer does not say the edging is lace. It probably is not, because when the trimming is lace in other plates, the writer tells us so explicitly. See how the collar and the neckline are similar and complement one another. Clever and if the wearer has nice skin, attractive.

In just a year or two after 1795, the use of lace at the neckline would go out of fashion for a bit, as the craze for severely classical plainness took hold.
The earrings here are gold pendants, which appear to be cone shaped and may have a small drop underneath the cone, and there may be more than one cone. It's hard to say. In Luxus and the Gallery of Fashion, gold hoops were most commonly illustrated this year, for instance the lady in plate 23, although there are a few button-style or bead loop styles. Hoops were hot. Gold was hot.

On to more details in Mrs. Atwater's ensemble.

Mrs. Atwater's belt, apparently of fabric close to that of the robe. A center clasp in two connecting halves, apparently of metal, perhaps gold or something mimicing it, and with some sort of vertical decoration, details unclear. The next image tells us something important about the belt.

Mrs. Atwater is wearing a long-sleeved robe over her chemise. It's of the type that does not close in front. There is a gorgeous example in brown silk of this sort of robe, from 1797, in Anne Bissonnette's Ohio and the Western Frontier: 1790-1840 book from Kent State University (and see a video of the exhibition, but sadly, not showing the robe. You have to have the book; as of this writing Kent State does not offer an image archive).

This robe is embroidered in what appear to be blues and pinks or reds along the edge. Some Heideloff fashion plates show this sort of edging, and the Met has a circa 1798 example of a faux robe over what it names a round gown that sports pretty multi-color embroidery. The way the paint is treated in the Atwater miniature, the belt appears to go over the robe to hold it in place. A robe, so far as I can tell from fashion plates, texts, and extant garment descriptions, was worn for more formal occasions. Have a look at the plates and text from the Gallery of Fashion preserved on Cathy Decker's old site, and you will see that robes are described for afternoon or evening dress, while dresses alone, or dresses with shawls or what look like long stoles, are worn instead for morning dress.

Mrs. Atwater is indoors. She is not wearing any headdress; I cannot tell if it's because this is a more formal occasion, or what. Her hair is dressed frizzed in front and with the back hair long, straightish, and "flying", as Luxus puts it, in locks, though it might be looped up in a sort of loose chignon, also a popular style. The Luxus plate 23 wears her hair "geschlangelt-kraus und fliegend", or roughly, "coiled and flying". I had some trouble with the "-kraus" word: the Fraktur typeface German text was printed in back then can be difficult to make out.

Well, thus ends the little analysis. It's not complete, and it leaves some questions, but this is what I love about comparing portrait miniatures with fashion plates, fashion texts, and extant clothing. Each bit of evidence has given us key information about ensembles worn in 1795 that individual types of evidence alone cannot.